I reviewed Nancy Lublin's "Zilch" the other day feeling relatively positive about the book as a good Management 101 piece that really provides some of the inside secrets to the very successful "Dress for Success".
Today I want return to one chapter in "Zilch" titled "Do More With Your Board". Because a large part of my practice is about nonprofit governance I gave this chapter a deeper level of attention. I must say however that I was a lot less excited about what Nancy Lublin had to say about governance.
One example: "not-for-profit board members are like senior staff who won't be in the office every day or even every week and will never get a paycheck from the organization." Ms. Lublin offered this thought in response to another nonprofit Exec's expressing the need to identify a "volunteer" who could help direct the strategy, tone, and execution of a multimedia campaign. Whoa! Board members are like senior staff? I would say yes, board members, when wearing their "volunteer" hats can be like senior staff. But when board members wear their "board" hats -- they are not like senior staff. Senior staff report to the Exec. Board members report to each other and they govern (at 30,000 feet), not 500 feet.
And the other "bad" example: "encourage the Board to communicate directly with staff". I can not recall an occasion where this advice has worked out well for the staff, CEO or Board. It is fraught on all kinds of levels of which I will think and blog about in the future. Bad advice in my opinion and there are much better ways to accomplish the different benefits Ms. Lublin outlines than creating bonding between staff and board (unless it's the Exec).
On the other hand, ideas I believe to be good: the organization's "target market" or constituencies would be represented on the board (Absolutely). Board members should not be compensated (this may have been one of the few advices more directed to business). Expectations of board members should be clearly spelled out (Certainly and this is a pretty big weakness of nonprofits -- a particularly important job for Governance Committees). Don't put the CEO on the Board -- rare for nonprofits, again, likely directed at for-profits). Finally, meet in the "field' -- probably what happens for most nonprofits although I would like to add: meet with your customers -- have them tell their stories and help find solutions to their challenges and the challenges of the organization. This of course might lead you to think about Engaged Governance -- another topic but one which I believe is a solution for many challenges.